'The show must go on’: Richmond Ballet offers socially-distanced performances

Updated: Oct. 24, 2020 at 4:39 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - The COVID-19 pandemic has caused curtains to close in theaters across the country, but the Richmond Ballet isn’t dimming the lights just yet.

The ballet’s Managing Director, Brett Bonda, and his team have been holding live in-person performances since September, all while maintaining the latest state-mandated health guidelines. Bonda says every health measure has been taken to ensure the pandemic won’t impact the performance or the patrons.

“We put protocols in place so that people feel very safe coming in here to experience theater when most other theaters or operas are mostly shutting down right now,” said Bonda “We said, ‘we’re going to keep going.’”

The Richmond Ballet is part of a national organization called Dance USA, which is really a national advocacy organization to support professional dance in the United States and beyond.

Bonda says most other studios have not been performing inside in a theater.

“There are several companies that have tried outside performances, but no one has started inside yet,” said Bonda “I believe, we were the first in North America of ballet companies to perform inside, and we did that back in September when most other companies have just shut down.”

“As we’ve learned, nothing’s going to change in the next couple of months. Who knows how long is going to be. So we want to be able to offer what we do,” added Bonda.

All performances have been moved from the Dominion Theater in downtown Richmond to the ballet’s indoor studios on Canal Street. The company is using roughly a quarter of its 250 theater seating capacity.

“We own this building. We have the theater, we can extend runs, we can social distance. So we put in all these protocols and to allow the public to come in here to see performances safely, including the dancers performing in masks,” said Bonda.

Seating arrangements are updated every performance to ensure that all guests have at least 6-feet of distance in all directions regardless of party size.

“It’s like Tetris in that once you put one person here, you have to figure 6-feet in all different directions. And then if there’s two that changes if there’s four, that changes it,” said Bonda. “It’s complicated, but we’re getting used to it because we’re surviving.”

Bonda says dancers are also required to wear face masks during the entirety of the performance. Performances have also been altered so that showtimes are only an hour-long without intermissions. Bonda adds that the company is coming up with new performances that are reflective of the times that we’re living in.

“We’re also looking at choreography that allows the social distancing or the 10-foot apart, so we’re doing solos and duets that we can keep apart and we’re creating new works that are really relative to this time,” said Bonda. “Minimal contact and minimal exposure are what we’ve really been trying to do and requiring masks worn properly the entire time you’re in the building.”

Patrons are being let into the building one at a time where ticket scanning has also gone contactless. Once in the building, there is a staircase that has been reserved for going up to the theater and a separate staircase that is used for exiting once the show ends.

“We’ve come up with all of these procedures because our dancers are employed, the marketing department is employed and our production department is employed, If we shut down, that’s going to hurt them,” said Bonda. “The most valuable asset we have is our people and so we are able to come up with this new way of working that is successful now, and it’s going to be successful for the near future.”

During and between performances, handrails in the staircase are sanitized and there are extra sanitation stations before and after entering the theater.

“You can actually come to our theater and not touch anything because we have doors open from the time you enter until you get your seat,” said Bonda. “Our mission is to awaken and uplift the human spirit. We said we can do it, and so we worked really hard in coming up with all the protocols to allow us to do that.”

The ballet’s October Series will close out this weekend and they have 16 shows coming up for their November series.

“We are opening for a November Studio Series on November 10th through the 22nd. We have 16 shows over two weeks,” said Bonda. "If you’re interested in a virtual option, you can do that as well, so there’s availability for either one right now.

“We’d love to have people come or stay home and watch it virtually whatever your comfort level is, but we want to provide opportunities for everyone.”

The company’s famed Nutcracker performance was a casualty of the pandemic, but the Bonda says the ballet is working on ways to offer the same holiday traditions this year.

“For the first time ever, we’re going to be offering a virtual option of our Nutcracker so you can purchase it to watch at home and we have all these incredible packages we’re creating for other opportunities,” said Bonda. "It’s a holiday tradition for families, and we want to continue that in a way that we feel is safe. And that’s exciting for the Richmond audience.

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